Dear Self

I don’t suppose it is age-appropriate to write to oneself. If I were a blushing teenager there would be no problem. I am, however, an aging man who’s expected to by now have figured out where his place is under the sun. I am far from that. I still spend the remaining minutes I have at work listening to Coldplay or worse counting the final seconds until I call it quits. I die to go home and to listen to some acid jazz number on my way.

So here I am now drafting a dear-self.

Dear Self,

My honesty with you can only be to a certain extent as I know the extent to which you can take my honest opinion of you. You’re someone who does not take a criticism too easily and well.

And I hate that you do not finish your thought and stop in the middle of a sente… .

There you go.

So you end your post here because something comes along and you think nothing can be of more consequence.

Until soon,

John

 

A dead man

A friend sent me a message last night after I’d gone to bed about this man he saw collapsing in the middle of a street sometime before midnight. The man was declared dead upon reaching the hospital. Doctor’s findings: cardiac arrest.

Waking up with this message, I knew it would define the rest of my day, determining the lens I will use in looking at things–from a program proposal to an evaluation I am working on. The thought of a man suddenly dying on a rainy night in the middle of the street is bewildering. A column written by a young girl in today’s Inquirer talks about depression and suicide. Being reminded all the time of death and its inevitability is something that a cup of coffee in the morning (whose original aroma has all but deserted it) will never easily erase in one’s thoughts. It’ll linger the whole day constantly telling me that all these are for nothing. That in the end, the choices we make while alive will all converge to that singular last breath that is in fact a commencement of that slow but steady process of forgetting and being forgotten.

My friend told me about how that man’s wife and children “were devastated.” I cannot say for sure how this cliché can aptly describe the feelings of the family. For sure they are. But how accurately does the word ‘devastated’ capture the essence of this emotion, of this eternal feeling of loss, eternity being our very myopic and self-centered idea of forever that only lasts as long as one’s consciousness exists? Even language is at a loss in concretizing death, for only living through death can one truly feel it but still completely unable to express it in the purest sense with words.

And so thoughts on the death of that unknown man pulled me back to thinking today and to its concomitant act of writing. It doesn’t matter how futile the attempt is.

Brand managers on TV

“You need to come to our store and experience our product,” says a Bose brand manager.

“We are in the cutting edge of sound technology, and we give our clients the chance to customize their music experience,” he enthusiastically adds as he holds his company’s latest product in front of the camera, touching what seems to be an application icon but which he refers to as a “product” (among the many products in a singular device he is holding).

He drops the word ‘experience’ once every two sentences.

“Here at Magnum, we give our customers the pleasure to indulge,” says the brand manager.

Looking straight at the camera without any sign of flinching, he adds, “We have 250,000 possible combinations of our Magnum bar with eighteen different toppings that will blow your mind away.”

His plaid shirt is framed by his khaki coat and unusually subdued pink tie. The young brand manager is almost my age.

Without any hint of irony in his voice, says, “My personal favorite is Magnum with potato chips and chili flakes. It’s so different.”

Then his spiel fades out with, “We also have an intense offering of comfort food,” as the background house music cross fades.

“From September 1 to 30, we will be online 24/7. And aside from being online we will be available in fiiiiiiive malls all over the country,” an autoloan bank manager says.

“It’s so easy; it’s crazy. Avail of our ridiculous price.”

Brand managers being interviewed on television are intense. After the salesman of encyclopedia so common before Wikipedia gobbled whole their market, brand managers spewing their spiels on TV are the third most irritating people one will meet in his lifetime.

They come almost too close to those who audition for artista searches on TV.

These brand managers are a bunch of driven and ambitious young men and women who’ve completely convinced themselves of the superiority, durability, benefits, and the seeming indispensability of goods they’re describing in glowing terms. A sense of the ridiculous has altogether abandoned them. It is, after all, like any forms of employment. Job requirements often force us in doing things we would otherwise not do if only we were given a better option. And for that I am sympathetic.

Perhaps they only need to learn some lessons on irony.

Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman' Sponsored by Internet Sales Company

 

 

 

 

 

 

On watching Her

her

It’s one of the saddest movies we’ve watched together. We were constantly looking at each other the whole time, giving the other a funny smirk, because of the absurdity of the scenes and the lines. They were absurd not because they’re improbable but because they’re all too possible. We vowed not to live long enough to see that day coming. I am meant for the run-of-the-mill kind of romance.

But Her seems oh too real. It’s set in the future, but it’s a future that’s not very far away from now. With the collapse of the more visceral type relationships, it’s not not easy to imagine myself one day falling in love with that OS-controlled sonorous voice emanating from an earpiece who learns from my every input.

It’s chilling. Yes. But it’s at the same time dripping with melancholia.

Friends from a long time ago

We all are a member of some sort of groups on Facebook whose members are people we have not seen for ten years or more. Aside from the occasional informally organized reunions that take place once every two years during the Christmas season, we ‘ve never truly caught up with most of these people because we’ve already moved and treaded on with our own individual journeys. Holding on to the past will simply slow down our ply forward.

I’ve recently received notification on Facebook about a photo taken more than eleven years ago of the Delta platoon of my high school CAT program. It was a very old photo taken by our high school’s official photographer scanned for the sole purpose of being uploaded on Facebook. For throwback Thursday said one of the hash tags.

delta

I was not in the picture but was tagged by one of the private cadets on the photo who’s a classmate. He is now working in the Middle East. He’s a family man. His profile picture on Facebook is that of his beautiful daughter, smiling innocently at the camera. Had I taken a similar path as this classmate, I would’ve already had a child of my own, and my Facebook page would be less a celebration of  the self than about my child.

I was my high school CAT corps commander. The conversation about the photo revolved on an incident that happened one Friday afternoon more than eleven years ago. It’s a funny banter about a control freak corps commander who found them hiding in one of the classrooms of first year students, foiling their effort to evade the unforgiving 4pm brigade formation under the still scathing afternoon sun. Of course they never forgot to mention the number of push-up they had to perform as punishment for their act.

I joined the happy exchange. My tone was that of a nostalgic old man looking back with a satisfied smile at a past long gone.

Versions of the story varied a little; some people I couldn’t recall to be there had sworn they were. Our memories being less stable than the ground we tread on shake uncontrollably most of the time. Every time we retrieve data stored in the mildewy recesses of our minds we struggle to recall. But we always allow for so much leeway, for some inconsistencies in details, for contradictions because this is how memory works. We invent, recreate, imagine. However, we seldom care. The past is for all of us to define.

But what bothers me more than the many versions of that incident is the apparent feeling of distance. My participation in the conversation on the page felt forced. My fakeness was so palpable I was ashamed of myself. The language they used, the slang from eleven years ago which they still pepper their sentences with sounded dated. Nothing changed it seemed to most of us.

That classmate who posted the photo said I was furiously shouting at them that afternoon. I was very mad, he wrote.

I laughed. How could I be so passionate about something that my memory has failed to store?

This is what eleven years does to all of us.

28 things I learned now that I’m in my late twenties

Everyone seems to be making lists these days, and because lists are admittedly fun to read (and that they organize our thoughts so well they’re anathema to the world made too disorganized by everyone’s random rants about everything), I thought why not jump onto the bandwagon (perhaps I’ll have something to laugh at rereading this ten years from now). So here is the list of things I learned after having lived long enough:

1. Sleep is too necessary the promise of a fun Saturday night pales in comparison to the promise of a fun Sunday morning after a long, restful sleep.

2. I’ve gotten too old to party, too disillusioned by supposed excitement of night-outs gone awry, painful headache from hangover the next day, and the utter meaninglessness of it all. And the crowd, arrgh, the crowd of young people wanting acceptance so desperately from people who barely matter.

20140622-150212-54132980.jpg

I’d rather have my mug of hot coffee and a book of essays on nationalism in Southeast Asia than aimlessly gyrating on a crowded dance floor while downing an overpriced drink to the tune of a trashy mix done by an overpaid DJ (I’m not even sure of they still call them DJ; the word sounds too dated to me). Seriously.

3. Which brings me to my third point – Reading. I need to read. And I should read indiscriminately, while making sure at the same time that I have a healthy mix of esoteric and challenging ones, of fiction that takes me to other planes of realities, and of those that are mind-deadening because doing so will allow me to participate in this communal conversation.

4. When one reaches his late twenties, he’ll realize that getting those rock-hard abs is not anymore as easy to have as it used to be. There was a time not so long ago when one can eat five cups of rice and completely burn them in three hours. Those days are, of course, over.

However, more than having those chiseled abs, exercising regularly is the easiest way to be high on endorphin and all those happy hormones without getting dangerously dependent on them. Exercising, aside from making one feel and look better, also functions like a milepost and aids in establishing healthy routine. I can go on an on talking about it, but I know you get what I mean.

5. There are days when I hate my job, and it’s just normal. Nobody passionately loves his job all the time. One need not to. There’s life after it, and that life outside of one’s job is just as important.

6. Invest. I buy stocks, purchase mutual funds, and of course keep some hard cash in the bank just in case. I do not have much, just enough to live comfortably based on a standard I have set for myself. I’ve gone past the stage when I’d squander a month’s worth of salary buying unnecessary stuff that reach their point of diminishing marginal utility as soon as I leave the shopping mall.

7. Get insurance. It’s too painful to fish out from one’s pocket cash to pay medical bills. A stay in an emergency room of a hospital due to a simple upset stomach can easily cost 6,000 pesos. And a three-day stay in a hospital will drain all your cash in no time. It’ll feel less overwhelming to spread out the burden of one’s health bills over a period of time by getting insurance because of course you’re not anymore as invincible as you thought you were.

Yeah, I just have to admit that this feeling of security costs something, too.

8. I only need three pairs of shoes: A pair of everyday canvas shoes for work, a pair of black leather shoes for important days (say reading a paper or attending a friend’s wedding), and a pair of dependable running shoes. All the rest, as a friend said, are nothing but fluff.

9. A weekly general cleaning of one’s place is healthy. It gives me peace of mind; I become more productive, and doing domestic chores inevitably keeps me sane. Getting rid of those cobwebs on the ceiling, mopping the floor, wiping those dusts away, emptying the trash basket, defrosting the freezer contribute to one’s overall well-being.

10. There’s nothing wrong if after all this time Alanis Morissette and Savage Garden still appeal to you. No one should be given the right to dictate upon you the kind of music to listen.

11. Fast foods are overpriced. Lack of time will never be an acceptable reason for falling into the trap of these multinationals that prey on the idea of our supposed lack of time, which they manufacture along with their soggy spaghetti, fat-soaked hamburger patties, and chickens drenched in sodium solution masquerading as gravy. With practice, one can easily make a gourmet meal that will give even more horrendously overpriced restaurants a run for their money.

12. People are poor not only because they do not have access to opportunities but also because they simply do not have enough time for everything.

13. Moisturize. I am not certain, but it makes the skin look less tired. I think. The moment one introduces his sentence with ‘I think,’ it’s like raising red flags of his uncertainty over the his assertion.

14. Eat lots of fiber. You can get it from grains and cereals, fruits, and vegetables. They do wonders to bowel movement.

15. It’s nice to have several pairs of house slippers. One, they get misplaced too easily. Nothing is worse than that feeling of having no slippers waiting for you as soon as you take off your shoes. Two, they’re cheap so having many will have very little impact on the budget. Three, they’re so comfortable and they remind you that finally you’re home.

16. Call, text, or visit them, but make sure your family knows you still exist. With independence it’s so easy to lose contact with people that truly matter to one’s life. But hey, it’s never to late to reconnect and to make your parents and siblings feel how much they still affect you in one way or another. Because like any relationships, our relationship with our family thrives in constant nurturing and conversations.

17. Raise plants. Or if your space does not allow for a garden, at least a plant in a pot. But there should be an animate green thing in your place. Unlike pets that require much attention and time, plants need only regular watering and a weekly three-hour stay under the sun. Plants remind you that somehow you still have not severed your connection from nature. They’re also lovely to look at. And if work becomes unbearable, looking at them can be calming.

18. Pray. There was a time before when it was supposedly cool to brandish one’s lack of faith in anything supernatural. Eventually that time will end.

19. The world doesn’t care.

20. Neither should you.

21. But there’s nothing wrong if you do.

22. Happiness is our only goal in life.

23. Learn to let go. It would be a perfect world if we could keep forever whatever and whoever keep us happy. But it’s not the case. When it’s time to let go, hold on for a little while, but when it’s really truly time to let go, then let go. Nothing’s wrong with holding on for a while. It’s normal. Then when it’s okay, you’d know in your heart when it truly is, move on and begin living life again.

24. Being kind to yourself is a responsibility.

25. Love someone until you bleed inside. Love until it hurts. Love until you cannot give anymore. And you will realize how much more you can still give. And that’s when you truly love. I think.

26. Forgiving people who hurt you will seem impossible at first, but soon everything will be forgotten that forgiveness will be unnecessary. Still, despite its futility, forgive.

27. Do not skip breakfast.

28. Don’t let others’ lists determine how you live your life. Make your own list.

The taste

20140323-110655.jpg

You know the feeling. That instance of impact of slightly reheated slimy coffee that has gone untouched for three days (or you don’t know how long it has been standing there, really, breeding colonies of bacteria and fungi), on your unsuspecting tongue, well not exactly unsuspecting as you are still able to keep a semblance of a well-kept apartment, so you have an idea what you will get yourself into and probably how long it has been since the last time you brewed coffee; still you go on as it doesn’t matter now.

You have an interesting idea in mind, something unique, life-altering if only it were given an existence that can be grasped by the senses, your computer is on, Michael Buble is filling the place with his velvety singing.  You just need your cup of coffee to complete the feel, so you can finally see in writing that idea gestating in your mind for the past thirteen minutes and is now ready to be C sectioned or be given birth naturally (This metaphor bothers me, but I think it sounds nice. I’ll wait, fifteen minutes, perhaps. If it still sounds interesting to me after reading my final draft, then the metaphor will stay).

But your cup. It is giving you that gnawing awareness, warning you, of a forthcoming melee. Between your stupid self and the radioactive content of your mug.

But you had it before, back when a 3-in-1 would do, back when you didn’t know the difference in taste between a five-peso-per-sachet mixture of sugar and artificially flavored coffee declaring itself “Italian taste perfected” and the overpriced but definitely more decent tasting signature coffee sold in a nearby coffee shop chain which high school students from an exclusive Catholic school located across, wanting to look cool, sip affectedly with a stick of cigarette in between fingers during breaks from their dull afternoon classes.

You know how it tasted. How evil it tasted. That mixture of 3-in-1 dissolved in tap water heated below boiling point gushing from your dorm’s rusty 1950s lead pipes. You know how it tasted after having stood on your study table for two days undisturbed, ants free diving in it, vacationing while their queen lay waiting for her loyal worker ants to bring back the loot.

But like then, you choose to ignore because there are many things in life that simply can’t wait. A great idea is one of them, unfortunately this time. And so, you sit in front of your ailing computer, ready to tackle the mocking-as-it-has-always-been blank, white space. And you begin typing on. It runs smoothly, your mind, that is; writing never felt this good before. The idea comes out as if it is unencumbered by the circuitous organelle-dotted canal that connects it and the bright and brave world outside.

Then you think, “where’s my mug of coffee?” You extend your arm; take hold of the handle of your favorite mug without looking, your rapt attention on the screen. You bring the mug close to your slightly parted lips. The stench gives you some warning, but you opted not to take heed. Your idea is approaching its most crucial leg, you can almost see the head. Then you take a sip. No, a gulp.

Then you know how stupidity tastes.